While many Americans were filling up their tanks with $4 gasoline this week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu was enjoying Major League Baseball’s opening game on a taxpayer-funded trip to Tokyo. Taxpayers were also footing the bill for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to spend a few days in Paris.
What are President Obama’s top two Cabinet-level energy advisers doing in Tokyo and Paris while the price of gas continues to climb?
At the very least, it’s bad optics. But for an administration that has consistently bungled energy issues — from restrictions on oil and gas drilling to the botched Solyndra loan — it’s yet another public-relations disaster.
The Washington Guardian’s John Solomon broke the story Friday after spotting this tweet from Chu spokesman Damien LaVera, who posted a photo from the Tokyo Dome on his official Energy Department account.
Ichiro at the Tokyo Dome.Never seen than many flashbulbs. twitter.com/EnergyPressSec…
— Damien LaVera (@EnergyPressSec) March 29, 2012
Chu attended Wednesday’s game between the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics, which marked the start of the Major League Baseball season. He was in Asia for a weeklong trip, which included a stop in Seoul for a conference on nuclear security, also attended by Obama.
Jackson darted off to Paris earlier this week to “meet with environmental leaders from more than 40 nations to discuss the Agency’s international efforts on urban sustainability.” She was also talking about the upcoming Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, which will be held in Brazil this June.
Neither was with Obama on Thursday when he railed against “Big Oil” during a Rose Garden speech. Obama was urging the Senate to end tax breaks for energy companies. The measure failed; four Democrats chose to ignore Obama’s plea.
The image of two globetrotting Cabinet officials gave Republicans ammunition to hammer the administration. Solomon reports:
The juxtaposition of the two Cabinet officers’ far-flung travel with the Obama administration’s populist appeals to Americans suffering through economic hard times and high gas prices wasn’t lost on the president’s Republican critics.
“With soaring gas prices here at home and hitting Americans’ pocketbooks every day, it seems that the last thing two of the administration’s top officials should be doing is using taxpayer dollars to jet to Tokyo and take in a baseball game or fly to Paris for a questionable environmental regulation conference,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told the Washington Guardian.
“This travel, alongside the President’s Rose Garden news conference today calling on Congress to raise taxes on energy producers, shows an administration that is completely out-of-touch with the realities of working men and women who count on their cars and trucks to get to and from work,” he added.
This, of course, isn’t the first time a presidential administration has encountered an uncomfortable scenario. Solomon recalls “former President George W. Bush’s decision to remain on vacation when Hurricane Katrina struck, or the Interior Department employees’ infamous taxpayer-funded trip to Disney World in the mid-1990s, shortly after the government shut down during a budget standoff.”